The redemptive sound of the Shofar; a call to praise

A Call to Praise

Nehemiah 9:1—25

A very interesting fact about chapter 9 of Nehemiah is generally not noticed by many Bible readers. Chapter 9 of Nehemiah, chapter 9 of Ezra, and chapter 9 of Daniel deal with exactly the same subject: revival.

Before looking at the events of Nehemiah 9, we should be clear about what is meant by the word “revival,” because it is generally misunderstood by many Christians. It means “to recover life and vigor” and “to return to consciousness.” It refers to a body that  once had life, but presently has no life in it; or no strength and no vitality. It is used by Paul in Romans 14:9 of Christ’s resurrection:

For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living. (KJV)

Obviously, as we look at revival in the context of Nehemiah, we aren’t talking about piles of corpses suddenly coming back to life. We are looking at believers in Yahweh who were in a poor spiritual state, who were brought back to spiritual vitality and power. In terms of Christians, the term revival refers to believers in Christ (Christians) who, for whatever reason, have lost the “fire in their bellies.” They have lost the joy and the excitement of walking with Christ. Christians like that are the “frozen chosen.” Their faith has become formal and cold. Sometimes they are even bored with it all. When believers like that experience revival, life returns to them. Their faith has meaning again. And, because they are excited about their faith, other people—unbelievers—come to Christ. Excitement is contagious. When you are thrilled about your faith, others will want what you have. But, let’s face it, if you are bored with your faith, who wants that?

Chapter 9 begins with a period of fasting and humiliation, after the reading of the Law. The joyous Feast of Tabernacles had ended, and now the people had to take a cold, hard look at their lives and give more serious attention to the admonitions they had heard during the reading of Scripture.

Then they did a most extraordinary thing:

Those of Israelite descent had separated themselves from all foreigners. (verse 2a)

The reading of God’s Word revealed the sin in the people’s lives, and was the impetus to do something about it. The people “separated themselves from all foreigners.” They shouldn’t have intermingled with them in the first place. God’s Word motivated them to make a change; to make things right. This was not an easy thing for the people to do; some of those foreigners were wives. But when revival comes, it brings about changes in people and in churches; changes that put the people back on God’s track; changes that wouldn’t occur otherwise.

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

There can be no revival without the preaching and teaching of the Word of God. Not only will it bring about a change in lives, but also a change in spirit:

They stood in their places and confessed their sins and the sins of their ancestors. (verse 2b)

Surely the Word of God is like a mirror; it reveals everything about the one looking into it. Perhaps that’s why so many Christians rarely read their Bibles!

The people fasted, prayed, set their lives right, and confessed their sins, the the praise began:

Stand up and praise the LORD your God, who is from everlasting to everlasting.” (verse 5b)

The people had been reading and hearing of the great things God had done for their forefathers. As they read, something stirred within them so that they had to bless the One who did so much. What did these people hear that moved them to praise?

1. God is the God of Creation, verse 6

You alone are the LORD. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you.

This really is a most remarkable verse. It begins with a version of the Shema: there is ONE God. This was the one thing that set Israel apart from other nations. They served ONE God, not a whole pantheon of gods. Their praise of God began with an acknowledgement of their most basic statement of faith.

This ONE God, single-handedly “made the heavens, even the highest heavens.” This is stirring phrase, literally meaning: God made the heaven of heavens! The “starry host” is a way of translating the Hebrew meaning “army,” “host,” “warriors.” God Himself made all the mighty angels of heaven. He made all that can be seen above, all that cannot be seen in the depths of the oceans and He animates all life. But what’s really astounding is that not only does man worship God, every living thing of heaven worships Him.

How can a human being not worship God when they see all that He has done?

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)

Of course, it’s sin that blinds a person to the reality God’s majesty. But it’s the Word of God that snaps that reality back into a believer’s view.

2. God is the God of Grace, verses 7, 8

You have kept your promise because you are righteous. (verse 8b)

By faith, Abram stepped out in faith, but by grace he was chosen by God. That grace that came to Abram through the call of God comes to people today in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Israelites praised God because of the way—the gracious way—He led their forefathers. God called them, led them, and He preserved them. Most of all, God treated them with grace because He was faithful to them.

Anybody who hears the call of God, as Abram did, will be led and preserved by God. And just as surely as God led His people into a new land, so He will lead those who follow Him today into a “new land!” A new land of faith; of possibilities; a new land of divine promises.

3. God is the God who Answers Prayers, verse 9

You saw the suffering of our ancestors in Egypt; you heard their cry at the Red Sea.

God saw the afflictions of His people in Egypt and He saved them; He led them out of Egypt. God sees the afflictions of His people in all the Egypts of this world, today. God hears you when you cry out to Him. God sees you when you reach the Red Seas of life, and you have nowhere to go. God still makes a way for His people. You can praise God because He answered prayers in the past, and He answers prayers in the present because He never changes!

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.  (Hebrews 11:6)

We can praise God because we know He answers prayers!

4. God is the God Who Delivers, verses 10—12

Time and again, God delivered His people. He got them out of Egypt. He got them across the Red Sea. He led them day and night. He saved His people from the hands of their enemies. Every twist and turn in their journey through the wilderness was a new, fresh deliverance on their behalf.

God is the God who delivers His people all the time. God delivers you whether you see it or not because He is intimately involved in your life. God is not hanging out way back in the cheap seats of the universe! He is right here; right now, looking after YOU.

Thanks to the Cross of Christ, all believers have been delivered from death, hell, and the grave. Thanks to the Holy Spirit, we are guided as surely as the Israelites were guided by the cloud and smoke. Stand up and bless the Lord because He has delivered and continues to deliver!

5. God is the God of Revelation, verse 13

You came down on Mount Sinai; you spoke to them from heaven. You gave them regulations and laws that are just and right, and decrees and commands that are good.

God graciously gave His people His Law, which was just and right.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17)

God’s Word to us, like His Word to the Israelites, came from “above,” it is therefore a “good and perfect gift.” Is that how you view God’s Word—His revelation to you today? We ought to be thankful to God that He has given us His Word because His statutes and admonitions are right.

The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure, and all of them are righteous. (Psalm 19:8—9)

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. (Psalm 119:105)

Is that how you view the Word of God? No human being can search for God and find Him apart from His Word. All that is knowable about God is found in the Scriptures. Sadly, for too many Christians, Bible study is seen as “optional,” something you do when you have nothing else going on. The Bible is a revelation from God to man, and we should praise God for that revelation.

6. God is the God Who Supplies All Our Needs, verse 15

In their hunger you gave them bread from heaven and in their thirst you brought them water from the rock; you told them to go in and take possession of the land you had sworn with uplifted hand to give them.

God made sure His people’s needs were met; both their present needs, but also their future needs. They had sustenance for the journey but they also had place prepared for them: a land of promise.

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)

Stand up and bless the Lord for His miraculous provision. “The riches of His glory in Christ” are inexhaustible! Is there any need to great for God meet?

7. God is a God of Patience and Mercy, verse 19

Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the wilderness. By day the pillar of cloud did not cease to guide them on their path, nor the pillar of fire by night to shine on the way they were to take.

We know the story of the Israelites in the desert. They rebelled. They forsook the Word of the Lord. They were forgetful. They tempted God. They were idolatrous. Yet, He never took His eyes off them! God never let them go! God never smacked them down! Instead of meeting their ingratitude and unbelief with judgment, the Lord added mercy to mercy!

You gave your good Spirit to instruct them. (verse 20a)

Why do you suppose God did that? These Israelites certainly deserved something else! God was merciful and patient and His Spirit taught them so that during their wilderness wanderings these people “lacked nothing” (verse 21) so that some day they could testify to His greatness.

On that fateful twenty-fourth day of the month, when they read from the book of the Law, when they read of magnificent goodness of their God in the past, their collective hearts burned within them.

Do we have a holy “fire in our bellies?”  Why are we so unresponsive to the Word of God? If you can answer those questions honestly, you are on your way to experiencing a mighty revival.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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